Saturday, 30 March 2013

Guest Top 5 - Things that as a kid I thought were fantastic and 30 years on, still are! by Al Westoll

Part 2 of the Alun Westoll Easter extravaganza. Al is the drummer and driving force behind Feltham's finest covers band The Phantoms who will be playing with JB & The Wolfmen and Clarabella & the Cryptkicker 5 at The Alley Cat Club in Denmark Street on Thursday 18th April. See you there hep cats!

Top 5 things that as a kid I thought were fantastic and 30 years on, still are!

1. The Wizard of Oz, 1939 film

Probably the genesis of my attraction to gingers! The Wizard of Oz was my favourite film as a kid & still is today. Most people berate the fact that it’s churned out every Christmas but apart from the presents (and a sneaky swig of my Nan’s Snowball!), it’s annual repeat was one of the highlights of my childhood festivities! It’s amazing to look back at it and think it was made in 1939! It looked and sounded great then, and still does. By the way, it is possible to love this film & not be gay!

2. The Beatles, Pop Group 1960 to 1970

As a child I’m sure you can all recall those long tedious car journeys on the way to some hideous Butlins holiday camp somewhere in the UK for your annual Summer family holiday. All the way there you were forced to listen to your parents music from the back seat of the Ford Mondeo, something like Abba or The Carpenters, and whether you like it or not, that music stays with you forever. I should be thankful though. Although I’m still quite fond of Abba & The Carpenters, my parents favourite was The Beatles, and so from an early age was inducted into the brilliance of the greatest ever pop band! I was only 9 months old when they split up (the Beatles, not my parents!) but their timeless songs have stayed with me for a lifetime & still sound as fresh & innovative today as they did 50 years ago! Thank God my Mum and Dad didn’t like Barry Manilow!

3. Stephen King, The Stand, 1978 Novel

I used to love reading as a kid. First off it was classics like Treasure Island, Sherlock Holmes & Around the World in 80 Days, but as I grew older (early teens) I developed a love of horror books and authors like Stephen King & James Herbert. To this day I can recall as a 13 year old being asked to read out loud to my English Lit class at Abbotsford School a paragraph from the book I was reading at the time. I chose to read the chapter from James Herbert’s ‘The Rats’ where a couple get eaten alive by a swarm of rats whilst having it off! I digress. I’ve also always been partial to a big fat book, the more epic the better, and as a result my favourite book back in the 80s was ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King. It’s a monster of a book (734 pages) telling the tale of the fight between good & evil in a post-apocalyptic America. I’ve never tired of this story and as I’m still an avid reader, will every now & then dip into it all over again. I’ve still got the same paperback I originally had all those years ago, but it’s starting to look a little faded & dog eared! By the way, like a lot of Stephen King books, it was made into an awful TV series sometime in the 90s & later released on DVD. Do not be tempted to watch it, but do read the book!

4. The Wombles Band!

The first albums I can remember playing on my tiny child’s record player were by the ‘furriest and possibly the tidiest band’, The Wombles (in reality songwriter Mike Batt). I loved all the songs and can remember many happy hours singing along to the lyrics reproduced in the lavish gatefold album sleeves! The Wombles released 4 albums between 1973 & 1975 and I had them all (my ‘little’ nephew has got them now but seeing as he’s now 18 maybe he can give them back)! Sadly they split in 1976 when Wellington left to pursue a solo career (really)! But why are they still great now I hear you ask? Well, in June 2011 I was lucky enough to be in the front row of a packed Avalon Tent at the Glastonbury Festival to witness the Wombles reunion! The capacity crowd (made up mainly of 40 somethings!) sung along to every word, just like me! Check it out! Fantastic!

5. BBC Classified Football Results (& Baked Beans on Toast)!

For many years as a young kid the highlight of the weekend for me was staying over with my Nan in her council flat in Brentford on a Friday night. I’d then spend Saturday morning doing my homework & watching TV. My parents would then come back and we would all sit round for our tea (always beans on toast for me!) at about the same time as Final Score on Grandstand & listen to Len Martin read the classified football results. This has hugely nostalgic memories for me & to this day I still love to tune in every week and listen the how all the teams got on (East Fyfe 4, Forfar 5, etc, etc) and remember my old Nan! Ahhhhhh. Incidentally, despite now being a bit of a foodie, I still love nothing better than a nice plate of beans on toast too! Oh, and a cup of tea. Obviously.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Guest Top 5 - Things that as a kid I thought were fantastic but looking back were not so great! by Al Westoll

A bumper Easter special. You may remember by pal Alun Westoll from his previous Guest top five double header "Top 5 Bands that only ever made one album" and "Top 5 Bands that SHOULD only have ever made one album". Well he's back with not one, not two but THREE top fives and I'm gonna give them all to you over the next few days.

(Editor's note: I particularly like how Al has attempted to recreate Bruce Campbell's pose in the swimming picture)

Things that as a kid I thought were fantastic but looking back were not so great

1. Live Aid, Concert (1985)

Kicking off with the inspiration behind this top 5. Fellow band member, Mark Gibson, recently lent me his DVD box set of Live Aid which I slowly worked my way through over a number of evenings. This is a prime example of something everyone (including myself until now) rave about saying what an amazing gig it was. But having now watched it all over again it’s definitely not as good as we remember! Yes, the odd bit still holds up (Quo, Queen) but mainly it’s terrible! From the Wembley gig, the performances of The Style Council, Adam Ant & Paul Young have not aged well. And as for the Philadelphia gig, it’s all quite painful, with the Thompson Twins a particular low point! See for yourself! 27 years later I’ve now taken off my rose tinted specs regarding Live Aid and well and truly stomped on them!

2. The Evil Dead, Movie (1981)

I can vividly remember being scared witless watching this film one Halloween at about the age of 12. A bunch of us got together round a friends house and scared ourselves silly watching it on VHS. Then sometime in my mid 20’s I can recall going to see a late night re-run of it at the cinema & this time laughing all the way through! The time lapse plasticine special effects & ‘raping tree’ were certainly not as terrifying the 2nd time around! I have to admit that I still love this film and rushed out to buy it when it was released on DVD. OK, so as a horror film it no longer cuts the mustard, but it’s a great watch with loads of top memories attached!

3. Swimming!

Kids love nothing better than splashing around in the pool & would stay in there for hours if it wasn’t for your parents having to drag you out. I know I used to love nothing better than a trip to Staines swimming pool. But somewhere along the line the fun seems to go out of it and as an adult it just seems like exercise. And there’s no fun in that!

4. 80s Fashion!

Growing up as a kid in the 80’s it was all about having the in-look! All the girls wanted to look like Madonna. All the boys were busy nicking VW badges to look like the Beastie Boys! For me it was a mullet haircut (which I still had when I started work in 1988!), a Gallini jumper (a hideous 3 coloured horizontal striped sweatshirt with a huge logo in the middle), dark blue jeans with a thin red (or white) pin stripe down the leg and white socks! All bought from Feltham Market (where Tesco’s is now)! For my Sister it was massive hair, leg warmers & Ra Ra skirts. Good grief, what were we thinking! Although the Parka Jacket was good! Now when I see young white kids walking around today with baseball caps on sideways (like the chavy comedian Lee Nelson) I’m amused to think that they will probably regret it too in 30 years time!

5. Madness, Pop Band, 1976 to now (unfortunately!)

I used to love this band when I was a kid. I can still remember Baggy Trousers being the ultimate anthem as a 10 year old at the Echelford School disco! I spent many hours on a Sunday night up in my bedroom listening to Simon Bates presenting the top 40 on Radio 1 & taping the Madness hits (desperately hoping no-one would make any noise whilst I hit the Play & Record buttons on my cassette player)! I used to listen to them all the time. Which was probably as annoying for my family as I found my Sisters constant rotation of Tight Fit’s ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’! Some people still love the Ska sound but now with adult ears it’s just too close to Reggae for my liking! One step beyond! BTW, why do these pop dinosaurs keep getting wheeled out every time there’s some kind of high profile gig recently? It was bad enough having to see them ponsing around on the roof of Buck House at the Jubilee gig. And just as I thought they had gone they were back again (singing exactly the same bloody song!) at the Olympics closing ceremony! Please make it stop!


Friday, 22 March 2013

Top 5 Songs about Frogs

It's been a week of stress. Work has been busy on many fronts and the week has disappeared all too quickly. Then our boiler, which has conducted an almost sentient vendetta against us since we moved in to our current house some ten years ago, sprang a leak so I awoke to the sound of water dripping through our ceiling ... via the light fittings. I'm feeling a bit strained, and I think I just put four sugars in my coffee. Anyway, this is all just a roundabout way of explaining that I needed a quick and quirky top five topic this week and was inspired by my friend MaRaineyBlues' attempts to list all her favourite frog related songs for Cerys Matthews' 6music show this Sunday. If I'm honest I just nicked most of these of Ma's list. No words to explain just play dem tunes.

1. The Jim Jones Revue "Princess and the Frog"

2. Floyd Newman "Frog Stomp"

3. Louis Armstrong "Leap Frog"

4. Walter Beasley "Toad Frog Blues"

5. Flaming Lips "Frogs"


Friday, 15 March 2013

Top 5 Songs by Status Quo

It's Status Quo week at Chop's Top Fives HQ. I know this won't mean much to non-Quo fans but the classic line-up have reunited for a mini UK tour and I'm off to see them at Hammersmith Odeon tonight (yes I know that's not it's current name but it is it's CORRECT name). I don't think I've ever been this excited about seeing a band live. I spent a considerable amount of my teens jumping up and down to Quo records in my bedroom and perfecting my air guitar technique. In many ways it's a shame I never applied myself to anything useful with quite the same degree of enthusiasm. I got into the band just before their "End of the Road" tour in '84, so failed to see them live before they split. Of course they popped back in time to open Live Aid in 1985 which meant I saw them on telly but then that was it ...

... until Rossi & Parfitt decided to get back together in 1986. It was possibly the shortest split in the history of rock. So, I finally got to see them live in 1986 supporting Queen at Wembley Stadium, and then later the same year at Hammersmith Odeon. They were brilliant (and have been every time I've seen them since) but they were without Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan. Alan had been a founder member of The Spectres with Rossi in 1962 and John had joined on drums a year later. They were an integral part of Quo during their best years (1971-1976 in my opinion) when they became known as the Frantic Four due to their live prowess. With all four of them now well into their Sixties, and the split fairly acrimonious, a reunion seemed pretty unlikely, so I'm over the moon to get a chance to finally see them play.

I did my Top 5 Status Quo albums last year, which you can check out HERE though, with hindsight, I think now I'd reorder that to read Live/Quo/Dog/Hello/Piledriver. My problems getting the album order right pale into insignificance compared with the anguish of pinning down my favourite songs. I found it fairly easy to draw up a short list of 20 but it was a struggle to whittle that down to just 9 at which point I spent a few days performing a sort of chinese puzzle to decide which would miss out.

1. Caroline (on Hello, 1973) - It's the song I think most people would identify with Quo. Down Down might be their only number one but Caroline is really their greatest hit. As such it's easy to overlook it. I've heard Caroline a lot, but it's still a monster of a tune. The perfect opening number kicking off with a typical Parfitt riff before settling down into the familar chug. It's got the hint of a Fifties rock'n'roll classic but Quo'd up.

2. Railroad (on Dog Of Two Head, 1971) - I love the sound on the Dog Of Two Head LP. It was the last they recorded for Pye (who were never happy with the rock turn their psychedelic pop stars took) and walks a fine line between the heavier sound that was to follow and the lighter tone of their earliest releases. Railroad is probably the closest to the sound that was to follow. It's got the perfect tempo to jump up and down to. Not so fast that you can't keep going for the whole song, not too slow. Halfway through there's a trademark widdly guitar solo from Rossi and then a fantastic bit of Harmonica (by tour manager Bob Young) that bridges into the slower chugging riff that brings the song to a close.

3. Backwater/Just Take Me (on Quo, 1974) - I realise that technically these are two songs but ... BUT ... oh come-on! They are nearly always paired together. The version on the album sees Backwater end with a clatter of drums that builds straight into the start of Just Take Me. It's seamless and brilliant. Individually they're both cracking tunes, together they are outstanding. Hey, it's my blog and I'm having them.

4. Paper Plane (on Piledriver, 1972) - Just shy of three minutes and with some mild drug references in the lyrics, this is Quo at their most efficient. Their first big hit as a proper rock band and the point when they really caught public attention.

5. Slow Train (on Quo, 1974) - Following in the tradition of epic album ending tunes that had previously provided two of Quo's best live tunes (Roadhouse Blues & Forty-Five Hundred Times) this is not so well known but has been a favourite of mine for many years. Quo seem perfectly suited to songs about trains and as the video below shows their rhythym fits the sound of a locomotive very well. There's enough time for some twiddly guitar jigs and even a drum solo before it all ends.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Top 5 Concept Albums

Last Sunday I took part in my first @LPGrp communal listen. The topic was concept albums and the winner was "The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars". I've only recently given Bowie much time and this was an excellent chance to listen to a classic album and discuss it with some fellow music lovers. "Ziggy" is fast becoming a favourite record for me though I was surprised it won the category. I'd been expecting a slew of Prog Rock albums, which I'd have been fine with, but the eventual list of nominated albums was both broad and intriguing.

I spent the previous week listening to many of the albums I'd never heard before and re-playing the ones I knew and loved. This was handy research for a top five so I thought I should strike whilst the iron's still hot. My top fives are nearly always about my personal taste rather than a definite list but this week's is particularly personal. I know I've missed off some significant, and excellent, albums but the five I've selected mean something special to me.

"Ziggy Stardust" was close but I decided not to include any of the excellent albums I've discovered in recent weeks. I really liked four or five others too but I need to live with an album for some time before I can genuinely assess it's worth. If you're not a great fan of the concept album it's worth checking out the full list of nominated LPs. There's a lot of excellent music on it and they might be good enough to change your mind.

1. "Misplaced Childhood" Marillion (1985) - I know what you're thinking! Let me explain. I got into Marillion about 6 months before this came out. It was the year I took my GCSE's so I was 15. I'd begun to discover this whole world of music outside of Top of the Pops and, for whatever reason, Marillion really did it for me. This might have been the first album I knew about before release and I remember rushing in to Kingston to pick it up the same week it came out. I think the Kayleigh single had preceded it and become a bit of a hit. I wasn't so keen on that but as part of the overall theme (lost love, acceptance and lost childhood) it really worked. I loved this album so much it led to my first ever concert (having spotted the band were touring on Ceefax). Originally planned for October '85 it was postponed due to Fish having throat problems so I finally popped my gig cherry in February '86. I didn't really stop after that. Any doubts I might have had about where to place this were dispelled by my first listen to it for very many years. I know it's as much about nostalgia as the music but I still know all the words and it gives me a feeling very few albums do.

2. "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" Genesis (1974) - My love of Marillion eventually, and inevitably, led towards me exploring Genesis (a gateway Prog band!). It didn't take me long to realise the Peter Gabriel years were the best but The Lamb was probably the album I took the longest to get to grips with. It's everything you'd expect of a Prog concept album. Long, sprawling and slightly off the wall. I did get there eventually and, unlike other albums of a similar vintage, I think this has really stood the test of time.

3. "Thick as a Brick" Jethro Tull (1972) - My second ever gig was ... Marillion again ... at the Milton Keynes Bowl with Jethro Tull as special guests. They were amazing that day and that was my starting point for a long love of the band. "Thick as a Brick" is not my favourite Tull album by any means (that's probably "Aqualung" which Tull were pretty adamant it's NOT a concept album so I couldn't include) but it is a very fine piece of music that captures Ian Anderson's mischievous sense of humour. A parody of the overblown epics of the band's contemporaries, that was supposedly the musical adaptation of a poem by 8-year-old Gerald Bostock. Last year I got to see Anderson perform the whole thing live for the first time, along with his recently recorded follow up. Inevitably "Thick as a Brick 2" isn't a patch on the original but it was a very fine and entertaining show.

4. "Radio K.A.O.S" Roger Waters (1987) - I am aware that I've overlooked several Pink Floyd albums to include this in my top five. That's not to say I don't love those Floyd albums but they don't occupy the same space in my heart as this album. Compared to "The Wall" this is a much more compact and succinct. Eight songs and a little over 40 minutes and all the better for it. The story is great, touching on Britain in the Thatcher years and the effects off monetarism (you can read all the details at Wikipedia) and is presented as though it's a live radio show. I went to see Waters perform it live at Wembley Arena and, despite the fact I was in a back corner of one of the worst venues known to mankind, it remains one of my all time favourite gigs.

5. "The Chronicle of The Black Sword" Hawkwind (1985) - Looking at the release date I'd guess this was my first Hawkwind LP, it didn't lead on to a massive surge of Hawk interest but it has remained a firm favourite. I bought in on vinyl but these were the days of Sony Walkman so my strongest memories are of listening to it through headphones on my walk back from college. The walk would take me about 50 minutes (I could have got the bus but I used to get fed up waiting) which was exactly the right length of time to play the entire album. It's a great headphone album, there's a wall of sound throughout and all sorts of typical Hawk-type space noise. It's based on the Elric stories by Micheal Moorcock (I'd have been into sword & sorcery at the time too) and they recorded a live version at Hammersmith Odeon that added inter song narration from Moorcock himself. I played it recently not expecting to enjoy it quite as much but I absolutely loved it.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Top 5 Songs of 2013 - January/February

I don't know if 2013 has gotten off to an unusally productive start but I've noticed a lot of new music that I've really enjoyed. I figured this might give me a quick top five every couple of months and make doing my top five songs of the year a lot easier too, so, here's the first of a possibly recurring series.

1. Low "Plastic Cup" - Low just seem to get better and better. This has an amazing lyric about what future generations might think if they discovered a plastic cup, a melody that melts your heart and some sumptuous harmonies.

2. Hot Feet "Wood House" - Really catchy little folk-rock tune from an marvellous EP that you can for under a fiver at Hot Feet's BandCamp site.

SoundCloud - Wood House

3. Teleman "Cristina" - Formed from the ashes of Pete & The Pirates, who with my usual sense of timing I got into about a week after they split up, this has all the hallmarks of that former band.

4. Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation "It Takes All Sorts" - This is a cracking song made all the better by their brilliant band name/song title combination. REPTILES!

SoundCloud - It Takes All Sorts

5. B.C. Camplight "Grim Cinema" - The title track from the forthcoming (if not already out) LP, which I loved when he played it in session for Marc Riley.